Here Comes The Knight (Rod & Bob)

This week a couple of musical stalwarts were honoured when Bob Dylan (75) received the Nobel Prize in (not “for”…in) Literature & Rod Stewart (71) picked up his knighthood, adding to the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (sheesh !) he already had. Sir Rod loves all that guff, has done since he left Faces & trotted off to La-La Land with Britt Ekland. Our new Laureate has remained admirably silent while the world’s journalists, some unable to name more than 3 of his songs, expound on whether he “deserves” his accolade. I’m not going to get into the whys & the wherefores of my generation (hoped we died before we got old ?) turning into our parents because that leads to shit that’s serious & seriously depressing. I will though invoke that adage of Groucho Marx, the funniest man of the twentieth century, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member”. A shout out too to Jean-Paul Sartre who declined his Nobel offer because “a writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honourable form”.



Image result for bob dylan francoise hardyI got lucky & got in early with Bob Dylan. The kid I sat next to at school was learning to play guitar (he became one of the UK’s most outstanding Folk artists) & he had the eponymous 1962 debut LP. The Beatles introduced me to Buddy Holly, Muddy Waters & Chuck Berry came through the Stones & this was my entry into Country Blues. He only wrote 2 songs on that first record, there are plenty of “trad, arranged by” & tunes credited to Jesse Fuller, Bukka White & Blind Lemon Jefferson. “Freewheelin'” was packed with originals. Not just instant folk standards like “Blowing in the Wind” & “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” but really hard ones like “Masters of War” & “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” which were a different cup of meat. There was more going on here than “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. In fact our hip young English teacher played us “Oxford Town”, the song inspired by events at the University of Mississippi on the enrolment of James Meredith, its first black student, to kickstart a discussion on civil rights in the US.


I heard the influence this new lyrical sensibility had on the Beat merchants, in their own compositions & the covers of Dylan’s. I could also hear that, before Woody Guthrie & the Alan Lomax field recordings, Bob was listening to the same Rock & Roll & R&B so close to the hearts of my musical heroes. It weren’t no thing at all for us when Dylan “went electric”. Something was happening, we knew what it was & so did he, while the Folk purists fumed we welcomed him over to our side of the tracks. He was really good at the new music. His rocking Folk-Blues, enhanced by Al Kooper’s distinctive organ sound, gave an epic quality to his intricate poetry. The 3 LPs “Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61 Revisited” & “Blonde On Blonde” were a major contribution to popular music’s increasingly serious treatment. He was indeed very popular, the first “Greatest Hits” collection being released in 1967.


Image result for bob dylan nashvilleLife as an international pop star was bad craziness & a motorcycle accident allowed him to step away from the rigmarole of being regarded as a spokesman for his generation. His return to recording found Bob to be more lyrically contemplative, musically less strident. The classic songs continued, his basement demos provided material for Julie Driscoll (“This Wheel’s on Fire”), Manfred Mann (“The Mighty Quinn”), the Byrds (“You Ain’t Going Nowhere”) & others. Dylanology, a bookcase full of, well…books, forensically pored over his intricate poetry looking for clues that may or may not be there. “John Wesley Harding” (1967), which included “All Along the Watchtower”, featured “The Ballad of Frankie Lee & Judas Priest”, with the moral “that one should never be where one does not belong”. Plenty of people wanted Dylan to be plenty of things but when he came back he did what he liked, liked what he did & really didn’t care what was written & said about him. Of course there were still great songs to come, “Simple Twist of Fate”, “Hurricane”, “Sara”, it’s a very long list.



Image result for rod stewart 70sIn the 1960s Sir Rod found himself Rock & Roll bands that needed a helping hand from a raspy Blues shouter, first with Steampacket, a revue of many talents, then with guitarist Jeff Beck’s group who made a bigger impression in the US than here. His standing gained him a solo recording contract & the greater freedom provided showed that there was possibly more to Rod the Mod than previously suspected. Rod had been a soulboy & the influence of Sam Cooke added a warmth to his vocals. He had been a teenage beatnik, busking around Europe until he was busted for vagrancy & deported from Spain in 1963. The addition of these Folk roots to the mix made for a very attractive, potent brew. A combination of Rod’s own songs with astute & appropriate cover versions helped too.Two LPs, perhaps regarded in the UK as moonlighting from his day job as lead singer of Faces, set the scene before “Every Picture Tells A Story” took over the world & Rod became a very big deal.



Image result for rod stewart 70s“Every Picture…” is an almost perfect record, self-produced, assistance from Ron Wood, drums by Micky Waller. On all 5 of his first LPs there’s a song he got from Bob Dylan (I’m including “Man of Constant Sorrow” here). These were selections by a fan, no obvious choices. “Only A Hobo”, a song with a tender social conscience, was an outtake from “The Times They Are a-Changin'” sessions in 1963. “Tomorrow is a Long Time”, the only Dylan composition to be recorded by Elvis Presley, had been taken up by many on the Folk scene while the original remained unreleased. “Mama You Been on My Mind” was another tune that Bob recorded, discarded & passed on to other artists. Dylan’s songs have been covered by so many others, everyone has a different list of favourites which all include Jimi Hendrix. Sir Rod, particularly with “Tomorrow…” has made a notable contribution to a large body of work.

By 1975 he had signed with Warner Brothers & was an ex-Face. The laddish flash seemed more based on conspicuous consumption, less grounded in his North London roots, the music less individual. “Atlantic Crossing” was his 4th #1 album in the UK but I wasn’t listening too closely. It was the first one not to include a Dylan song…just saying.



Both of them are still going, Bob on his endless tour, Sir Rod with his stream of covers. Bob released an album of cover versions (taking a pop at Rod’s) while they have both recorded Xmas collections. In 1988 Sir Rod wrote a song “Forever Young” & it was pointed out that it shared more than a title with Dylan’s song from “Planet Waves” (1974). He ran it by the future Nobel winner & it became the only song where the two share composing credits. We’ll go for the original here because it’s another one for the ages from a master songwriter.


Image result for bob dylan nobelI knew people who thought that modern music was Bob Dylan then everybody else below. I remember the excitement when someone walked into the house with “George Jackson” (1971), a return to the protest form. There may have been 136 or 142 protest singers (Ha !) but he was the one that mattered. The last of his records to make an impression round here was “Love & Theft” (2001), that’s a good set. Dylan is the greatest songwriter of his generation. Back then he needed no deification & now no Nobel recognition to change that. He’s written 136 or 142 great songs.


“Well, I set my monkey on the log & ordered him to do the Dog
He wagged his tail and shook his head & he went and did the Cat instead
He’s a weird monkey, very funky”

“I’m just average, common too I’m just like him, the same as you                                                  I’m everybody’s brother and son I ain’t different from anyone                                                      It ain’t no use a-talking to me It’s just the same as talking to you,”

Verses from the proto-rap “I Shall Be Free #10” on “Another Side of Bob Dylan” (1964) a record I could only afford by sneaking it into the 50p (60 cents) bin at the local market.

“Everybody must get stoned”, that’s another one of his.




Gram Parsons Put Me On It.

When Gram Parsons joined the Byrds he needed little of his Southern charm to steer his new band members along the Country roads on their LP “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (1968). Bass player Chris Hillman had grown up playing Bluegrass & guitarist/singer Roger McGuinn was a folkie before they went following into the jingle-jangle morning. The problem was that America’s Woodstock Nation viewed Country as over-sentimental, clean-cut & conservative, the soundtrack for Vice-President Spiro Agnew’s silent majority. Coming back at ya, the denizens of Nashville & the Grand Ole Opry were not about to give a bunch of longhairs from California a fair hearing. I was in that first camp, Mum was a big fan of Jim Reeves, I wasn’t. Gram’s love & appreciation of Country, allied to great songwriting talent & an achingly beautiful voice, produced original music that moved the tradition forward. His choice of songs to cover in his short life were always worthy of further investigation which proved that those Nashville Cats played clean as country water & that the Devil did not have all the best tunes.




Image result for louvin brothersAh, the Louvin Brothers, Ira & Charlie from Rainsville, Alabama. Their song “The Christian Life” appeared on “Sweetheart…”. It’s the antithesis of a rock lyric & a great tune. Anyhow, you may not heed God’s call “but what is a friend who wants you to fall”. Their early career was interrupted by Charlie’s military service in Korea & it was 1955 before they appeared at the Grand Ole Opry. The brothers were steeped in Gospel & it was only around this time that they first recorded secular music. The following year was their breakthrough with 4 Top 10 Country hits & the release of the LP “Tragic Songs of Life”, a superb collection of heartbreak, doom & murder. These boys could sing. Ira usually took the lead but their close harmonies, swooping & soaring & so natural, are a thing of wonder. “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby”, the lightest of their songs, makes the cut here because it’s a chance to see just how the duo did it in living colour. Check “You’re Running Wild”, a high, lonesome delight, or “Cash on the Barrelhead”, a song I was introduced to by GP’s version on his posthumous classic “Grievous Angel”.


Charlie Louvin was a respected, respectable God-fearing man. Brother Ira, was a womaniser & a mean drunk given to smashing his mandolin on-stage when his mood took a wrong turn. On a tour with Elvis Presley the new young star professed his love for Gospel music & was dismissed by Ira for the “trash” Elvis performed. His third wife, there were four, shot him 4 times in the chest & twice in the hand after he tried to strangle her with a telephone cord. Ira pulled through. The many stories add piquancy to their songs about the temptations of sin. By 1963 Charlie had had his fill of this abuse & split up the act. The Louvins were inspired by the Delmore Brothers, stars in the 1930s. In 1960 they recorded an LP of their songs. By this time Rock & Roll was the thing & the Everly Brothers, influenced by Ira & Charlie, were at the top of the tree, continuing the timeline of the families that play together.



For his solo LPs Gram found the perfect foil in Emmylou Harris, a young folk singer from the Washington DC area. “GP” (1973) featured 2 duets, both rather minor country hits. “That’s All It Took” was co-written by George Jones a legend of American music who had started out in the honky tonks but whose orderly Countrypolitan style was just the thing younger audiences disliked about Nashville’s output. George’s great voice, his ability to invest part of himself & to achieve a universality in the songs he recorded made him something of a model for Gram Parsons. I discovered more about George Jones, the original of “A Good Year For the Roses”, after Elvis Costello’s cover, the tender melodrama of his 1980 #1 “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, the duets with his wife Tammy Wynette & the alcohol fuelled dramas from their marriage. It was almost 30 years since I fell in love with the sound of Gram & Emmylou before I heard, from what I thought to be an unlikely pairing, the original of “That’s All It Took”.


Image result for gene pitney george jonesGene Pitney’s first hit in the UK was his dramatic, memorable interpretation of Bacharach & David’s “Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa”. Gene had previous as a songwriter for teen idols Bobby Vee (“Rubber Ball”) & Ricky Nelson (“Hello Mary Lou”). Phil Spector picked up “He’s A Rebel” for a #1 by the Crystals, though the girl group did not sing on the record. I liked Gene Pitney. The follow up to “24 Hours…” was the first cover of a Rolling Stones song to reach the charts. His multi-tracked ballads were original & distinctive during the British Beat Boom. What I didn’t know was that while he was making these hits he recorded 2 LPs of duets with George Jones. “For the First Time ! Two Great Stars” opens with the marvellously titled “I’ve Got 5 Dollars & It’s Saturday Night”. There are standards, a few of George’s songs & a song that I’d loved since I first heard it in 1973. An incongruous duo but it worked.



Image result for harlan howardHarlan Howard, though I didn’t know it at the time, was responsible for one of the first pop hits that I was aware of. “Heartaches By the Numbers”, a country hit for Ray Price became an international pop hit for Guy Mitchell & Harlan took his satchel full of songs to Nashville where he found instant success having 15 hits in 1961. By the time Gram recorded his versions of 2 of Howard’s tunes he was being inducted into Nashville’s Songwriters Hall of Fame. On “Burrito Deluxe” (1970) the Flying Burrito Brothers covered “Image of Me”, a country hit for Conway Twitty. “Streets of Baltimore” (“GP”) is a sad vignette about a Tennessee cowboy who took his wife to the big city & left her there when she chose the bright lights over him.


Image result for gram parsonsBack then I thought I knew nothing more about Harlan Howard beyond those two credits on the labels of much-played records. He had a hand in more than 100 hits & what we have here is his fine version of “I Fall to Pieces”, a smash for the greatest of the female country singers Patsy Cline. Other artists picked up on his songs. Ray Charles, whose 1962 LP “Modern Sounds in Country & Western” had ignored musical labels & just smashed it, found “Busted” on a Johnny Cash record. In 1969 Joe Simon took “The Choking Kind” to #1 in the R&B charts (between the Isley Brothers & Marvin Gaye). Harlan Howard defined country music as “three chords & the truth”. This was what Gram Parsons was aiming for & something we should all have around.



Back Together Again (CousteauX)

Currently on heavy rotation round our end, anyone who stumbles into Loosehandlebars HQ is made to listen, is a new video from 2 friends who have not created music together for some time. From their earlier records we knew that when the songs of Davey Ray Moor are matched with the vocals of Liam McKahey something very special occurs, So, before you read on, the new track from CousteauX is just a click away…do your ears a favour right.



It’s been 10 years since “Nova Scotia”,the 3rd & final LP from Cousteau. The band’s distinctive, often dark, torch songs had gained them an international reputation if not the wider audience they deserved. Cousteau were modern cabaret , sophisticated & sharp like Sinatra was, the resident band in that after-hours club of your dreams. I was biased, before Cousteau Liam & I had worked & played out together, sharing some of the best days & nights that it is possible to have. The fact that his strong, assured voice & presence made him an ideal frontman was a delightful bonus. On our one meeting Davey & I spoke of Burt Bacharach & Jimmy Webb, master tunesmiths who made listening not only easy but sublime. With Liam’s voice to write for Davey’s ambition was high & his aim was true. There were songs when the band hit the bullseye smack dab in the middle.


So now, 10 years on, we have an added Roman numeral & CousteauX. “The Innermost Light”, written by Davey with Carl Barat, formerly off of the Libertines, is from a new LP by the pair. It’s a long distance relationship, Davey is a university lecturer on the business of the music business in the UK while Liam lives in Canberra, Australia. His group, Liam McKahey & the Bodies, made a great LP, “Black Vinyl Heart” (try “Dirty Mind”), a potent mix of Blues, Country & Morricone-inspired mariachi.That voice had matured, with, if possible, a greater range & depth. Davey heard the record & knew he had songs that needed his old singer to do them justice. “The Innermost Light” is a very dramatic 4 minutes. Liam has been compared to Scott Walker & I’ve always heard the richness of Lou Rawls, no higher praise, in there. He really has a fine instrument & there are more of these songs around the World Wide Web.



You can find “Shelter” on the band’s website, & on their F-book page, where they also feature Liam’s artwork & point you to the places where you can buy both the new & the old stuff. The album should be available soon &, so far, there has just been the one gig at the Blue Note in Milan. I know plenty of folk who are so pleased to see these guys making music together again. It’s music made by & for grown ups & it deserves a wide audience which can bring them together for more gigs to showcase their talents. Man, I should have gone to Milan !



Whatever deal Liam made with whomever it was a 2 for 1 bargain. There’s not only the voice but an infuriating anti-ageing thing going on there. However he’s coming up to that landmark for all parents where he is no longer the coolest person in his own home. The wonderfully named Teen Jesus & the Jean Teasers are 5 school friends from Canberra who include Liam’s daughter Scarlett on guitar. Inspired by the Indie rock of their big sisters’ (or their Mums’) record collections they have the same direct energetic approach as fellow Aussie Courtney Barnett & the 2 tracks on Soundcloud are a great pop noise. “Guessing Game”, whether by accident or design, has more than a touch of Siouxsie & the Banshees & there can never be too much of that around. These young women are 15 & 16 & have got it going on. Scarlett, Anna, Jaida, Neve & Pip, you rock ladies, let’s hear more of this good Powerpop.

Ry Cooder Put Me On It (Part 2)

Before Ry Cooder released his first solo LP in 1970 he had an already established reputation as an outstanding exponent of the bottleneck guitar. His work with Taj Mahal in the Rising Sons, on Captain Beefheart’s “Safe As Milk” & sessions for the Rolling Stones, most notably with Jagger’s “Memo From Turner” from the “Performance” soundtrack, marked him as an eloquent young stylist & one to watch. The “Ry Cooder” LP showed him to be a student & an archivist of marginalised American music from the early twentieth century. Side 2 includes songs by Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter, Arthur “Blind” Blake, Sleepy John Estes & Blind Willie Johnson, all fine Blues names. I was a student too, I knew about these guys. There was another blind musician who was new to me…



Image result for blind alfred reedAlfred Reed was born blind in 1880 & learned to play the violin on the farm in West Virginia where he grew up. He played at fairs, churches, on street corners, selling the sheet music of his compositions. It was 1927 before he recorded any tracks, 4 in July, 5 more in December. Two years later a couple of sessions produced 12 more sides & that’s all there is. “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live”, heavily re-shuffled by Ry, using only 3 of the 8 verses, is a topical protest song recorded just a week after Black Tuesday, the Wall St Crash & the onset of the Depression. Reed was a conservative Christian, “Why Do You Bob Your Hair Girls ?”, a warning that a woman’s short hair is against His will, is now anachronistic & funny. His colloquial, unvarnished lyrics hit the spot & his lament for the working man, “can hardly get our breath, taxed and schooled and preached to death”, certainly still resonates. Reed’s brief collected work, accompanied by his son Arville, includes more of this good country roots stuff & is certainly worth checking.


Ry Cooder was not finished with Alfred Reed. In 1976 he recorded “Always Lift Him Up”, a lovely, sympathetic lyric, & last year he was performing “You Must Unload”, more Appalachian wisdom concerning the road to Heaven for the wealthy churchgoer. “How Can…” has remained a centrepiece of his live sets, sometimes extended to a 10 minute showcase of fine musicality. In 1987 the noted documentarist Les Blank pointed his cameras at the Moula Banda Rhythm Aces for a version which makes space available for the keyboard of Van Dyke Parks & the singular accordion of my good friend (well, I spent one evening in his company) Flaco Jimenez as well as Cooder’s inimitable guitar work.



Cooder’s 2nd LP “Into the Purple Valley” continued his excavations of the Blues & the Dustbowl while incorporating a couple of Caribbean classics. “How Can You Keep On Moving” & “Taxes on the Farmer Feeds Us All” were both on the 1959 LP “Songs From the Depression” by folk trio the New Lost City Ramblers which also featured 2 songs by Reed including “How Can a Poor Man…”. “Denomination Blues”, a direct, mocking commentary on 57 varieties of Christianity, was a perfect candidate for revival. “Well, the Primitive Baptists they believe that you can’t go to heaven ‘less you wash your feet & that’s all”. Funny because it’s true ? I couldn’t say. This song was my introduction to the unique talent of Washington Phillips.


Phillips was born in 1880 too, down in Teague Texas. He was a jack-leg preacher, looking for a temporary church gig or delivering street corner sermons. Like Blind Alfred Reed his only recordings, just 15 songs, were made between 1927 & 1929.I guess that his music is gospel-blues & he had some success with “Take Your Burden to the Lord”, a popular hymn. There is no supplication to the spirit of the Lord, moral homilies are delivered in a calm, mature, assured voice. I am not the most religious of men but I’m always open to advice about Life & how to live it from those who have knocked about a bit.From his lyrics Washington Phillips seems to have been a smart man & there’s an eerie beauty about “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today” that just enchants me out of my secular socks whenever I listen to it. Then there’s the mysterious matter of his instrument of choice…



Image result for washington phillipsWell, there it is in the one of the surviving photos of Mr Phillips. The technical term is, I believe, 2 big old zithers welded together. It has been variously identified as a dulceola/dolceola, a celestaphone for the right hand, a phonoharp for the left. It does seem that the original instruments were intended to be played with a hammer but Wash chose to strum & pluck them. Whatever he called it the effect is individual & wonderful, providing a gentle, floating accompaniment to his lyrics. Gospel & Blues for sure, in this melodic, mature music I hear the roots of modern popular music & that is something.


Ry Cooder agreed & in 1974 he & producer Russ Titelman re-worked Phillips’ “You Can’t Stop A Tattler” into the classy & classic “The Tattler”. We’ll end with that & then you can get on to the Y-tube & discover more about 2 great musicians who deserve a wider hearing.





Leave Him Alone Lennon Or I’ll Tell Them All The Truth About You (Richard Lester)

Richard Lester was in the right place at the right time just too many times for it to purely down to his luck. He was a bright kid, graduating from college at 19. Within a year of becoming a stage hand at a Philadelphia TV station he was directing live shows. That sounds like the fast track but television was a new thing, the whole operation still seat-of-the-pants. If you said you could direct then you got to have a go, if you didn’t screw up then you got the job. In 1953, still only 21, he moved to the UK where his US experience & his ability to talk a good fight found him work with the new commercial station. Lester has said that he wanted to direct films so that he could shoot a second take. Whatever, the films he made in the 1960s retain the spontaneity & vivacity of someone with a liking for pointing a camera & seeing what happens.


The Goons were THE deal in 1950s British comedy. “Goonery” was a tangle of surreal wordplay, Army barrack room disregard for authority & the iconoclastic genius of Spike Milligan. The trio (Milligan, Peter Sellers & Harry Secombe) were looking to move from radio to TV & cinema. Richard Lester was the American, the outsider, with a developed & perverse visual sense who helped to do that. You know how Monty Python had Terry Gilliam…exactly like that. There were a couple of small British films, one for Walter Shenson who was to produce a film that the world & their teenage daughter was waiting for. John Lennon was a major fan of the Goons, he knew who Richard Lester was. The director was in the best place at the best time & got the job of his life.



“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) had to be a lot of things to a lot of people. United Artists may have wanted a cheap, quickly made film to cash-in on this temporary Beatlemania. Fans & their money were easily parted but there was a fascination with the personalities of 4 young Liverpudlians who made the almost irresistible music. Lester’s film contributed to the Mop Top iconography, presenting sanitized characterisations of each Beatle. It did a whole lot more & did it in the correct style. “A Hard Day’s Night” is a Day In The Life mockumentary, black & white, expeditious. There are nods to the French New Wave, the music video is invented before our very eyes for the best music around. The humour is gentle & knowing whether from the Fab Four or the excellent support cast of comedy actors. Oh & Paul’s Grandad (the incomparable Wilfred Brambell) is “very clean”. The film was a great success. I loved it as a young boy & over 50 years later it still rates 99% over at Rotten Tomatoes.


So England was swinging like a pendulum do & Richard Lester was helping out because we were so busy. Before he directed “Help”, the Beatles as an international phenomenon, in colour, on location & a little too zany, he won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with “The Knack…& How to Get It”, a satire on the new sexual morality since the death of Queen Victoria in 1960 (© Spike Milligan). “The Knack”, though dated, is the quintessential British Mod movie. It’s stylish & energetic without making too much sense & stars Rita Tushingham, our kitchen sink princess. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (1966) was a little too busy, a musical-comedy that could use more of both. Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers &, in his final appearance, Buster Keaton are three good reasons to see the film.


In 1966 John Lennon gave some of his time & more of his hair to play Musketeer Gripweed in “How I Won the War”, an anti-war movie made with sharp wit & fast pace. “Petulia” (1968) with Julie Christie was made in the US & is very highly rated. It’s so long since I’ve seen this film…I’ll get back to you on this.



“The Bed Sitting Room” (1969) is, according to the Wiki,  an absurdist, post-apocalyptic, satirical comedy…it’s even better than that sounds ! Adapted from the play by Spike Milligan & John Antrobus, the 20 British survivors of a blink & what just happened nuclear war attempt to preserve a degree of the old ways on the giant rubbish tip they are left with while dealing with unlikely & surprising mutations. The script is hilarious, the filming inventive & the cast is perfect. There are classical actors, Ralph Richardson, in the title role, Michael Hordern (I saw his King Lear that very year) & Mona Washbourne, a couple of Goons, stalwart comedy character actors including Arthur Lowe & Roy Kinnear & there’s Rita Tushingham. The show is almost stolen by Marty Feldman (Nurse Arthur) while Peter Cook & Dudley Moore were never funnier on film than they are here. “The Bed Sitting Room” is the bridge between the Goons & Monty Python, thought-provoking, very silly & from the top rank of British comedy movies. God Save Mrs Ethel Shroake !


In the next decade Lester’s budgets got bigger. “The Three Musketeers” (1973) became a bit too much of a comedy-action epic & was eventually released as 2 separate films. The starry cast were surprised by “The 4 Musketeers” (1974) as they had only been paid for the one movie ! “Juggernaut”, a shipboard disaster movie, didn’t really cut it & the following year’s “Royal Flash”, starring Malcolm McDowell, so disappointed writer George MacDonald Fraser that he blocked any further cinematic adaptations of his character.Richard going to Hollywood was inevitable but while these films were accomplished & entertaining, the individuality & vibrancy of his earlier work was diluted. By 1976 he was back on it & his next 2 releases are certainly a return to form.



In “Robin & Marion” (1976), our outlaw hero returns to England wearied by 20 years of full-on crusading. The Sheriff of Nottingham is still set in his evil ways & the verdant venturer is not about to walk away from a fight. Then, of course, the love of his life, Maid Marion, is still hanging out with the forest folk. Post-James Bond Sean Connery chose his film roles well & his gnarled knight schools Costner, Crowe or any of the other men in tights. The final showdown between Connery & Robert Shaw (the Sheriff), tough guys going at it right, is classy mid-70s cinema. Such a masculine Robin Hood needs a worthy Marion. The film’s coup was to persuade a great star to return to the movies after almost a decade away. Audrey Hepburn was no longer Holly Golightly but the camera still loved her. Her strong, beautiful even luminous Maid completes a lovely, mature, romantic film. I saw it again last week & absolutely enjoyed it just as much as 40 years ago.


OK, that’s three very good films so no room here for “The Ritz” (1976), an update on the screwball that gets it right. It’s a 1970s American comedy from the same top shelf as Woody Allen, Mel Brooks & Neil Simon. Lester had a continuing relationship with the producers of the musketeer movies who had moved on to the “Superman” franchise. The first film, starring Christopher Reeve, was a major success & when director Richard Donner was unavailable to complete the follow-up Lester re-shot “Superman II” (1980) & directed “…III” (the one with Richard Pryor). This was big box office stuff but there was not much more to come. The Musketeers were reunited for “The Return of…” (1989) which went straight to cable in the US & the Beatle connection got him the gig for “Get Back” (1991), a McCartney concert film.


Richard Lester’s films have not always aged well but they retain the energy & imagination of the 1960s. He worked with some major talents & made a major contribution to transferring their abilities on to the big screen. The 3 films I have highlighted here are of the highest quality. The others are pretty much a blast too.




Soul Man On Ice (Jerry Butler)

In the mid-1950s in Cabrini-Green on the North side of Chicago 2 school friends, part of the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers, were looking to get serious about their music. Jerry Butler was 2 years older than Curtis Mayfield but Curtis came along when Jerry hooked up with the Roosters, a doo-wop group from Chattanooga Tennessee. In 1958, the group now known as Jerry Butler & the Impressions, Mayfield still only 16 years old, made the US Top 20 with their first record “For Your Precious Love”. Butler, who co-wrote the hit, delivers a dramatic, heartfelt vocal which belies his teenage years. They were young men who got it right the first time & were encouraged that their creativity in writing & performance would find an audience. There was just one more 45 from this group before Jerry became a solo act. Over the following 20 years Jerry Butler’s name on the record became a guarantee of quality & excellence.


Like his contemporaries, Sam Cooke & Marvin Gaye, Butler aspired to the LP sales & supper club cabaret success of Nat King Cole. His first solo LP is heavy on the orchestral & chorale arrangements. On signing to Vee Jay he got back with Curtis. One of the 4 songs they wrote together, “He Will Break Your Heart” put him in the Top 10. Jerry recorded the original version of “Make It Easy On Yourself” with Burt Bacharach. In the UK the Walker Brothers nicked the hit but, for me, Butler is definitive. The standards & the ballads were assured, the danceable Chicago Soul from Mayfield/Butler sounded great & they made a most acceptable mix.



When Curtis placed a higher priority on his own group, the Impressions, Jerry’s LPs played a little safe. A sweetheart Soul duet of “Let It Be Me” with Betty Everett was a smash.”The Soul Goes On” is a collection of covers. His style had less grit than the new Memphis Soul but Jerry Butler knew where the action was. He & Otis Redding wrote “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” together & that song is about as good as it gets.


A Philadelphia DJ dubbed Jerry “The Ice Man”. When he was matched with upcoming production team Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff they ran with it & “The Ice Man Cometh” (1968) was his biggest selling LP. This is commercial Pop-Soul at its best, with many of the elements that would make the producers so successful in the near future. The lyrics are mature & emotional, the songs packed with hooks to catch your ear. Five singles were released from the LP, three more from the following “Ice On Ice”. Seven of these eight made the R&B Top 10.



I carried a cassette collection of these 45s around for years. It’s a tough call to include only one of them here. “Never Give You Up”, “Hey, Western Union Man”, the fantastic “Lost”, it’s a list…3 minute dramas, not a second wasted. “Only The Strong Survive”, the most successful of all, gets the shout because I still find the simple guitar figure under Jerry’s intro, before the big chorus & the sweeping strings, to be irresistible. Gamble & Huff produced 15 Gold singles, 22 Gold albums. In 2008 they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & it was Jerry Butler, a member since 1991, who stepped up to do the honours.


In 1970 Gamble & Huff went off to do their own thing with Philadelphia International records. Jerry’s old spar Curtis was busy with his own label, Curtom but the rest of the Chicago crew were still around. “One on One” is an LP shared with Gene Chandler, a million seller with “Duke of Earl” in 1962, another who had benefitted from Curtis Mayfield’s songwriting skills & back on the scene with a “Groovy Situation”. Black music was getting all funked up. Gene & Jerry take it to the street on  “Ten & Two (Take This Woman Off The Corner)” , a busy version of James Spencer’s original which deserved a wider hearing. The subject matter, pimps & prostitutes, was possibly a little too strong for radio & for fans of the singers’ lighter output in the past decade.



The ponderously titled  “…Sings Assorted Sounds With The Aid Of Assorted Friends & Relatives” employed the same musicians, arranger Donnie Hathaway, brother Billy Butler & backing singer Barbara Lee Eager. The New Thing is incorporated but Jerry’s style was not going to change too much. He & his associates had been making records for a long time & they knew what worked for them. At the time Curtis Mayfield was recording the coolest original soundtrack to a movie ever. “Superfly” confirmed his membership of the new Soul aristocracy, writing, performing & selling millions of their own LPs. I would not claim that “…Assorted…” belongs in such company but it’s a classic of mature Chicago Soul. The opening track “How Can We Lose It” sounds like a hit to me & sets a standard which is matched by what follows.


Jerry continued to record on Mercury records then, in the Disco years, with Motown before returning to Gamble & Huff. There were more duets with Barbara Lee Eager & with Thelma Houston & enough quality from this period to decorate another one of these posts. In 1970 he & brother Billy appeared on US TV. They went back to “I Stand Accused”, a song they wrote together & released in 1964 on the same single as “Need To Belong”. Now that’s a small vinyl disc that’s worth having around & so is this one-off, intimate, informal version.



Jerry Butler is still around. By all accounts what you see, a stylish, dignified, articulate man, is what you get. Still in Chicago, he has served as an elected commissioner of Cook County since the 1980s. When he performs his great hits the pride & pleasure he takes is transmitted to his audience. It’s 60 years now since he & Curtis hung out at Wells High School working out how to capture a moment of emotion in a simple, memorable pop song. Those young boys were into something good back then. As styles & taste changed they continued to finesse their skills while never forgetting why & where they started out.

That Girl Could Sing (Ooh Betty !)

Very little is known about Betty James. She was in her 40s, singing in Baltimore clubs with her husband as guitarist & musical director, when, in 1961, she was offered the chance to record by the New York based label Cee Jay.Her song was a hit in Pittsburgh & the track was picked up by Chess Records. 55 years later “I’m a Little Mixed Up” abides as a classic good enough to rank with all the other ones to emerge from 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago.



There’s both kinds of music here, the Rhythm & the Blues with little embellishment to  a straight ahead 12 bar structure. Ms James’ vocal is urban & urbane, neither Blues shouting nor Gospel pleading. The guitar part, whether played by Mr James or by studio guy Tarheel Slim, is a loose, insistent, infectious delight. The record gained some attention in Modernist dance clubs with an ear for good American music. My knees & hips are no longer what they were but I’m still a cool jerk attempting an approximation of the Twist whenever I hear this tune. The following year Betty sang “I’m Not Mixed Up Anymore”. There was one more single for Chess, another released as Nadine Renaye & those 8 tracks are all we have. Listening to “I’m a Little Mixed Up” is a fine way to spend 3 minutes.



Betty Harris started in New York too. She was just in from Florida when she auditioned for producer Bert Berns with a measured, impassioned version of Bert’s hit for Solomon Burke “Cry To Me”. The subsequent release was a Top 30 national hit in 1963 and the following year there were 2 more 45s on the Jubilee label. The record buying public & American radio stations were pre-occupied with the British Invasion in 1964 & Betty was unable to catch that wave. She signed a new deal with Sansu Records in New Orleans.


Sansu was a new label started by partners Marshall Sehorn & Allen Toussaint. It was an opportunity for composer/arranger/producer Toussaint to run his own studio operation & Betty’s “What a Sad Feeling” was the first track to be released. It’s a perfect sweeping Pop-Soul ballad, an update of Toussaint’s earlier work with Irma Thomas. There were to be 10 singles by Betty Harris for Sansu, “Nearer to You” was an almost-hit. She came down to New Orleans to add her vocal to tracks created by the master & his house band who were to become the Meters. There’s a private number on a duet with the great James Carr & a shared credit with Lee Dorsey for the infectious floor-filler “Love Lots of Lovin'”. Toussaint produced over 30 singles for the label, taking the rhythms & melodies of the New Orleans tradition & moving them forward.


For Betty’s last single in 1969 everything the Sansu crew did was gonna be Funky. “There’s a Break in the Road” is a fantastic one-off. On his “Yes We Can” LP Lee Dorsey was given great songs with similar New Orleans funk pyrotechnics.   It’s a pity that there was no LP made with Allen Toussaint but their collaboration makes Ms Harris a contender for the Soul Queen of New Orleans belt. I have it on good authority (the Internet, so it must be true) that the featured funky drummer here is James Black from Eddie Bo’s group. As James showed on “Hook & Sling (Part 2)” his groove was quite a show-stealer in 1969. Betty made little money from her records & in 1970 she retired from music for 25 years to be with her family. Her 28 track legacy is impressive.



With 3 being, as you know, the magic number there is room for only one more Betty today.In contention is Betty Everett who shoop-shooped to an international hit with “It’s in His Kiss”, recorded a sweet LP of duets with Jerry “the Iceman” Butler & hit the heights with the atmospheric “Getting Mighty Crowded”. If  Betty Wright had only recorded “Clean Up Woman” & “Shoorah, Shoorah” (Toussaint again) her reputation would be high.It’s Bettye with an “e” who makes the cut. A recording artist for over 50 years, who only last year received a Grammy nomination for her latest LP.


In 1962, just 16 years old, Bettye Lavette’s first record, “My Man is a Loving Man” was a hit. She toured with the stars of the day, had a spell with the James Brown Revue & recorded for a couple of local Detroit labels. “Do Your Duty” a direct tasty plateful  of Memphis Soul Stew was recorded with the Dixie Flyers & when she signed with Atlantic they sent her to make an LP in Alabama with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Things must have been looking & sounding good for Ms Lavette when “Child of the Seventies” was completed but the major label disagreed & the LP was shelved. 2 singles from the sessions, a Soul take on Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” & an emotional version of Joe Simon’s “Your Turn to Cry” only added to the legend. It would be almost 30 years before we got to hear the whole shebang. Just one click will get you her cover of Free’s “The Stealer”, confirming that a cloth-eared someone at Atlantic made a big mistake.



While Bettye’s recording career became more sporadic her range & versatility led her to the touring company of the musical “Bubbling Brown Sugar”. European interest in that lost album instigated a revival & she was ready for the 21st century. “A Woman Like Me” (2003), made with producer Dennis Walker (Ted Hawkins, Robert Cray, B.B. King), is a modern, mature Soul-Blues collection. As well as her fine voice, one of the keys to her new success was a shrewd choice of material. 2005’s “I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise” used songs written by female composers while “Interpretations” (2010) found nuance & depth in British Rock classics. The misty eyes of Roger Daltrey & Pete Townshend as Bettye performs a stunning “Love Reign O’er Me” in tribute to the Who is a lovely sight. Ms Lavette returned to Muscle Shoals for “The Scene of the Crime” (2007), more cool covers backed by the Drive-By Truckers. The original, autobiographical “Before the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye Lavette)” is co-written with Patterson Hood. She has quite a story to tell & it’s great that she has the opportunity to tell it while making new music & memories.



The First Pop Songs In The World (Strength)

Here at loosehandlebars we have always appreciated an elite group of invited friends giving up their time & talent to contribute to the blog. It’s a delight to welcome Derry music legend, my great buddy, Paul Pj Mc Cartney, off of Bam Bam & the Calling, to these pages. Paul is going to put us on to one of his hometown’s hottest combos Strength. McCarts talks a lot of sense about a lot of things. Any time he wants to share something with us I’m sure that we will find a space for him.


I had a party in the house in late March 2010 to celebrate my 45th birthday, and some of the distinguished guests (arch-hooligans of the Derry Underground Music Community?) were late getting there because Strength were launching their double A-Sided single (on cassette) – ‘Do Televisions/Frankie Moore Ritual’ – in the Castle Bar on Waterloo Street. My good friend Sean Pemberton (he of Guadapenda Rosindale and Mars Field fame) brought me up a copy and it went straight into the stereo. I was automatically blown away, and knew I would have to get my ass along to their next show, and a few weeks later I witnessed their brave, beautiful and indeed confrontational music first hand and was smitten.


One thing I recall was seeing them not too long after that and remembering most of the songs from the first night and I think that’s a really telling thing. This was Strength Mark 1 – Rory Moore (vocals), John McLaughlin (synthesizer) and David McFeely (synthesizer). I think they played in the Castle about half a dozen times, and it was always an incredible experience that stayed with me for weeks after, and I was totally honoured when Rory invited me along to DJ twice. On a few of these occasions, when they finished a song, there was like a 3 or 4 second delay before the audience applauded. But that’s the magical and seductive whirlpool they draw you into when they play their fantastic songs, they take you on a trip Baby and the last thing you need is Drugs.


It’s not for someone like me to speculate on the actual influences the band have, they kinda keep that to themselves, just go out and let it loose. Their songs and their sound had me thinking of Scott Walker, The Young Marble Giants, Nick Cave, The Silver Apples, Suicide, the post-punk Dub excursions of Adrian Sherwood, Liquid Liquid and The Idiot era Iggy Pop. We are aware of their preference for vintage technology (Betamax videotapes are still on the agenda) , but they do it right and the sheer emotion they communicate when they play is nothing short of thrilling. And to the actual songs – the aforementioned ‘Do Televisions’ and ‘Frankie Moore Ritual’, ‘Disobedience’, ‘Hospital Beds And Drugs’, ‘I Like Compressions’, ‘Evil Part One’ and ‘Northern Ireland Yes’ are all totally different to each other , but form a whole, that has us lucky people looking down the barrel of one of the best Irish debut albums ever in my opinion.



I’m gonna cut to the chase and talk about the songs (in non-chronological order of course), here’s one that has transcended the line-up changes and they play and enjoy playing every night – ‘I Like Compressions’ – In effect, a regional hit, it made a chart of songs put together last year of songs released from bands and artistes from the North of Ireland. The difference here is that Strength didn’t actually put it out as a commercial release. The line-up playing in this video (and you’ve been introduced to Rory Moore already) is Conor McNamee, Neil Burns and Eoghan Doneghan, they are the current line-up. One thing this particular song shows also is that these guys can get pretty darn funky when the groove takes them, and there’s an added bonus here of a chorus you could park three-quarters of Iceland on, and you’ll be humming it for weeks after…as you do.



Next up, ‘Frankie Moore Ritual’, this was on the the cassette-only double A-Sided release from 2010, the other song being ‘Do Televisions’. They bring this one in at over 8  and a half minutes and it never dips as it goes, in fact, it’s all action start to finish. This one got me thinking of the Young Marble Giants when I first heard it, but also elements of early Orbital and the larky elements of the Stereolab EPs and Albums when Sean O’Hagan of The High Llamas came on board. I would say that anyone who liked the ‘Turn On’ project Sean O’Hagan and Tim Gane put together in the late 1990’s will definitely dig this one. And you know the way some records end up opening up for a few minutes, and you think it’s an instrumental the whole way through and then a song happens, well this is one of them songs…don’t worry, I’m not giving away the plot.



“Northern Ireland Yes” is this year’s single. It’s another imaginative, hypnotic addition to their catalogue & deserved the wider attention that it received. The group are currently touring. This week, on the 7th of July, they are playing in Derry supported by our boys the Gatefolds. We need an LP of their tunes, in whatever retro-influenced format they choose. Keep an eye out for further news on their website. These guys are going from Strength to…(you see what I almost did there).



Put On A Iron Shirt (Max Romeo)

In June 1969 there was something missing when the BBC announced the new UK chart on a Sunday evening. At #10 “a record by Max Romeo” was referred to then on to the next. “Wet Dream”, a song about sleeping under a leaky roof (yeah right Max) was banned by the only British music station but Reggae was not only favoured by skinheads that summer. Desmond Dekker’s “It Mek” & Max’s early example of Jamaican slackness could be heard, mixed in with the Motown, wherever young people gathered to dance. “Wet Dream”, a combination of novelty, suggestiveness & a damn good tune, sold 250,000 copies & Max Romeo became known as a very Rude Boy.



There was no successful follow-up to the hit. With producer Bunny Lee Max tried more slackness but that novelty had passed. There were ill-judged cover versions from the middle of the road  (“Puppet on a String” !) while his own songs showed a growing concern with social issues & Rastafarian culture. “Let the Power Fall on I” was adopted by Michael Manley’s People’s National Party who campaigned & won an election in 1972 with policies including equal pay, a minimum wage & free education. Max liked the sound of that & wrote a number of songs promoting the PNP. They were an extension of previous conscious lyrics like “Rent Crisis” & “Black Equality”, sweet vocals setting out simple, direct & sincere sentiments. It’s difficult to resist a tune titled “Socialism Is Love”.


In the early 1970s Max Romeo worked mainly with Bunny Lee, Niney the Observer & Lee Perry with one-off recordings for other Kingston producers. The songs, with versions by men like Dennis Alcapone, (“Jordan River”), I Roy & King Tubby, are clear, attractive polemics, provocative & anticipating the coming “Rasta Bandwagon”. There are some gems to be found from this period. By 1975 the LP “Revelation Time”, a consistent, original collection, was only available in Jamaica. There were at least 10 single releases in 1975 & one of them stood above the rest.



“One Step Forward” was produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry who had engineered much of “Revelation Time”.  Scratch’s reputation is as a mad, stoned Dub alchemist but for this LP, “War Ina Babylon”, Max has said there was “a one hundred percent scrupulous function” in the studio. There was a deal with Island Records, a guaranteed international release for “War….” & the Romeo/Perry partnership stepped up to the mark. This is a more refined Reggae, house band the Upsetters providing sympathetic, confident rhythms to Max’s assertive lyrics. In 1976 the possibilities of Reggae LPs were being stretched by Bob Marley’s “Rastaman Vibration” & the debut records of his brothers from the original Wailers. In his backyard Black Ark studio Lee Perry’s work with the Heptones & Junior Murvin was a benchmark for a commercial, still conscious sound. “War Ina Babylon” sits just fine with both of these strands, An essential Reggae LP.



The alliance with Perry didn’t last nor did the good relations with Island. Max took care with his publishing business, the much-sampled “Chase the Devil” from “War…” proved to be a consistent earner. However the money & promises made by producer & record label were not forthcoming. 1977’s LP “Reconstruction” was self-produced but Island’s promotional priorities were geared towards making Bob Marley an international superstar. The late UK release of “Revelation Time” also deflected attention from his new material. It’s a pity that songs as good as “Melt Away” failed to consolidate the higher profile his great record had brought him.



Max Romeo left Jamaica for work in the US, continuing to record, perform & write those good songs. In 1981 the “Holding Out My Love To You” LP, an attempt to crossover into the American market, was co-produced by Keith Richards. After the notoriety of “Wet Dream” he established himself with a series of early Rasta, direct & melodic political songs which were often too candid for Jamaican radio stations. “War Ina Babylon” is his masterpiece, still sounding great 40 years on. It’s an entry point for some seriously good Reggae music.




More Broken Hearts And Prairie Soul (Daniel Romano)

OK. let’s get current. Today, May 27th, is the release date for “Mosey”, the 5th solo LP by Daniel Romano. Despite the antiquity (timelessness ?) of many of the tunes I feature here, I do listen to new music & not just as confirmation that the old music is better. The Underworld LP “Barbara Barbara We Face A Shining Future” will sit nicely on the shelf next to their 2 classic records of the mid-90s. Louie Vega’s Soulful House productions for Caron Wheeler & Cassio Ware are from the top rank. I would listen to that radio station playing Prince Rama’s contagious single “Bahia” on double heavy rotation. The only 2 tracks I had heard from “Mosey” got me handing over the hard-earned in the week before release. If there were other songs as good as “(Gone Is) All But A Quarry Of Stone” it was best that I had them around.



The last 3 LPs by Daniel Romano (I don’t know 2010’s “Workin’ For The Music Man”) have established his reputation as a consummate Country & Western stylist. His harder than a heartbreak lyrics, matched to recreations from Buck Owens’ Bakersfield honky tonk & the more countrypolitan Nashville of George Jones, are assured & affecting enough to ameliorate suspicions of mere revivalism. Elements of homage & pastiche, the sequinned country threads, are balanced by a respect for & an understanding of the structure & the sentiment of how these songs went.”Hard On You”, “There Are Lines On My Face” & others are retro-modern, distinct enough to have made an impression at any time since Hank done it his way. Romano called this music Mosey, a place he was “the King of…”. This new collection indicates that Mosey is a little further from Nashville than we thought.


The opener, “Valerie Leon”, is an uptempo theme to an imaginary Western, more Elmer Bernstein than Morricone, expansive orchestration, a touch of Tex-Mex but not the full mariachi. “I Had To Hide Your Poem In A Song” is a dramatic Blues. Romano is augmenting his Country music with other American roots influences, the result is looser, dramatic & surprising. The songs are still a catalogue of torment & tribulation, no longer limited by the strictures of his chosen genre they are heavy on atmosphere. The choruses are less obvious but still, when they come, captivating. Daniel Romano is a fine songwriter. I’m going to, like everyone else, check for Lee Hazlewood here. Romano’s baritone, Western fatalism with a dry humour & new palette does bring the master to mind. That’s some good company to keep.



For the album cover & the “(Gone Is)…” video Daniel has swapped sartorial dudeism for an Adidas shell suit & a Bob Dylan circa-66 ‘fro. The LP version replaces the strings with a churchy organ swirl & remains a bleak delight (I do like a lament). There has always been an element of performance art about his work. I found similarities in the early work of Lyle Lovett & Tom Waits. The sentimentality & archness of his chosen field was overridden by the quality of the records. The incongruous videos, gorilla suits & sci-fi animation, were more than winks that there was more to Mr Romano than his country gentleman affectations.This new character ? We will see if he hangs around. For myself the proof is in the hearing & I’m liking what I hear.



“Mosey” is a big change from Romano’s previous records. There was a tip off on “If I’ve Only One Time Askin” (2015) when “The One That Got Away (Came Back Today)” ended with an odd, almost psyche, guitar coda. There are more of these on “Mosey”. He may be ready to leave the Country but I’m not sure that all his fans will accept this shift towards a harder edge. Me, I’m an open-minded guy. If there are more songs as good as “Hunger Is A Dream You Die In”, with its backwards guitar, & the rocking closer “Dead Medium” to come then I’m happy to ride shotgun on the journey.